Posted on August 12, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1258 – Brachos on the Tefillin – One or Two Brachos?

Speaking Between Tefillin Shel Yad and Tefillin Shel Rosh – Reason to Return Home from Battle

The Torah in Parshas Shoftim enumerates various situations which entitle—or perhaps require—a Jewish young man to be excused from military service. The final situation mentioned is someone who is “fearful and soft-hearted” (Bamidbar 20:8). The Mishna (Sotah 44a) cites two opinions as to the nature of this fear. Rabbi Akiva says it simply means that he is terrified by the sights and sounds of battle. Rabbi Yossi HaGlili says it refers to someone who is afraid that he will now be punished for sins he has previously committed. The Talmud elaborates on Rabbi Yossi HaGlili’s opinion, and says that one who speaks between putting on his hand Tefillin and his head Tefillin has sinned, and it is for such a sin that a person returns home from the battlefield.

In a sefer published many years ago, called Heimah Yenachamuni, the Tolner Rebbe of Yerushalayim asks why this particular infraction was cited as the classic example of a sin the Jewish soldier fears may cause him to fall in battle. There are many “minor sins” out there that the Talmud could have cited. Speaking between donning the Tefillin shel Yad and Tefillin shel Rosh happens to be a very uncommon aveirah. Why did Chazal—out of the thousands of “small aveiros” that a person can do—pick this particular infraction?

The Tolner Rebbe suggests the following: When Jews go to war, they need to go with the assumption that “Hashem will fight for you…” (Shemos 14:14) – that the Ribono shel Olam is fighting our war for us. The thought that “My power and the strength of my hand has brought me this great valor” (Devorim 8:17) (i.e., we have better soldiers, better weapons, better generals, we are smarter, braver, more technologically advanced, etc., etc.) is not a Jewish concept! If the Ribono shel Olam is not on our side, then the greatest army and the greatest set of weaponry will not help us!

On the other hand, the Jewish army as a whole, and every Jewish soldier individually, must undertake legitimate hishtadlus (personal effort). Legitimate hishtadlus means finding the best soldiers, the bravest soldiers, and the most efficient soldiers. We dare not take the attitude that “We don’t need an army. We will just go ahead and pull people off the street and tell them, ‘Go fight the war!'” That is not the way it works. Derech ha’teva hishtadlus (‘way of nature’ effort) means preparing a proper army and air force, and all the latest military equipment. We are forbidden to rely on miracles.

The challenge is to create proper balance in the Jewish army: Great soldiers, great equipment, great training, great efficiency – but it should not go to their head that “My power and the strength of my hand has brought me this great valor.” This is the tension that must always exist with Jewish soldiers going out to do battle.

Tefillin shel Yad represents the power of a person. It is placed on his arm – representing his might and his strength. Tefillin shel Rosh corresponds to a person’s intellect (mo’ach). Putting on both Tefillin shel Yad and shel Rosh represent the concept of melding the two forces that make up a personality: A person’s own strength is represented by the hand Tefillin and a person’s spirituality is represented by the head Tefillin that are placed upon one’s mo’ach – brain). It is the brain, the intellect, which impresses upon the person the idea that “He is the One who gives you strength to do acts of valor” (Devorim 8:18).

The soldier must thus enter battle with that which is represented by the Tefillin shel Yad (“my strength”) but they also need to go in with the Tefillin shel Rosh, which tells them that it is the Ribono shel Olam that gives them strength.

Thus, says the Tolner Rebbe, someone who interrupts to converse between the Hand Tefillin and the Head Tefillin has sinned grievously. Separating the two – the icon of personal strength and the icon of Divine Assistance, which wins the battle for us, invalidates a Jewish soldier from taking his place on the battle front. That is why Chazal cite “Sach bein Tefilla l’Tefilla” as the prototype sin, which would lead to defeat in war.

The True Story of a Unique Shofet (Judge) For Parshas Shoftim

There was a certain fine Jew in the town of Shklov who had a beautiful daughter. He married her off to one of the young Torah scholars in the city. Two years after they were married, witnesses came and told the husband that his wife was seen secluding herself in a private room with another man. The husband, suspecting his wife of adultery, wanted to divorce her.

He came to the Rav of the city – Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitles (1743-1822), and asked him what he should do in this case, feeling that his wife was a “safek Sotah” and that he could no longer live with her. The woman’s father, as well as the woman herself, denied all charges and said that she never secluded herself with another man and never did anything wrong.

The Rav had to travel from Shklov to Peterburg, and he decided that on the way he would stop in Vilna and consult with the Vilna Gaon about this perplexing case. The Gaon told Rabbi Zeitles, “I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I cannot tell you what to pasken unless I hear with my own ears the words of the witnesses.” Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitles arranged for the husband and the wife and the father and the two witnesses to come before the Vilna Gaon. The woman and her father repeated their denial of the charges. The witnesses repeated their accusation that the woman secluded herself with another man.”

The Gaon, as halacha demands, questioned the witnesses individually. He took one of the witnesses into a side room and asked him to repeat the story. The witness repeated the story to the Gaon. The Gaon then sent him out and called in the second witness. The second witness repeated his story to the Gaon. The Gaon then came out of the room and screamed “These are false witnesses! (Eidei sheker heim!)”.

If the Vilna Gaon screams at you, “Eidei Sheker…” you had better not contradict him! The witnesses started crying. They confessed that they were indeed false witnesses. They admitted that there was someone in their city who hated the husband, was jealous of him, and paid them to come to the local Beis Din with these trumped-up charges against his wife.

The students of the Gaon were amazed. They said, “Ruach HaKodesh!” They felt this was clear proof that the Gaon spoke with Divine Inspiration. How else could he have known—given that their two stories jived completely—that they were false witnesses?

The Gaon repeated, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet. I was not given this insight through Ruach HaKodesh – but I know how to learn a Mishna! The Mishna [Sanhedrin 3:6] states: “How do they check out the witnesses? They bring them into a room and threaten them, and send everyone out of the room leaving only the senior witness. We say to him – tell us on what basis you know that this person is guilty… and afterwards you bring in the second witness and check him out. If their words match (im nimtze’u divreihem mechuvanim)… you can proceed to adjudicate based on this testimony.”

The Gaon said that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the author of the Mishna, did not use one extra word. Why did he write here, “im nimtze’u divreihem mechuvanim”? (If it is found that their words match) Why didn’t the Mishna simply say, “if their words match” (im divreihem mechuvanim)? The Gaon explained: No two people tell the same story exactly the same. We see this all the time with witnesses. They witness the same event and they tell over the story in court. Their stories basically match. But it is not word for word! The Judges hear the story from the first witness and then they here the story from the second witness. If it is found—i.e. through the judges having to fill in the blanks and matching the discrepancies between the two narrations—that the story is true, then they are to be believed.

The Gaon said “With these two witnesses, it was not “nimtze’u” (found to be) the case that the stories match. They verbatim told the same exact story as if they were reading it from a memorized script. This proves that they rehearsed the story together and they were liars!

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Shoftim is provided below:

  • 019 – Copying Cassette Tapes
  • 109 – Hasogas G’vul: Infringing on Another’s Livelihood
  • 155 – Ba’al Tashchis: Cutting Down That Troublesome Tree
  • 202 – Melech v’lo Malkah: A Jewish Queen?
  • 249 – May A Daughter Say Kaddish?
  • 338 – Relying on a Goral
  • 383 – Circumstantial Evidence
  • 426 – The Mitzvah of Escorting Guests
  • 470 – May a Convict Escape?
  • 514 – Can a Ger Be a Rosh Yeshiva?
  • 558 – Competition Among Teachers
  • 602 – Saying Kaddish for 12 Months
  • 646 – Cutting Branches of Fruit Trees
  • 690 – The Grandson and Kaddish
  • 734 – Making a Bracha on a New House
  • 778 – “I’m Bar Mitzvah” – Do We Believe Him?
  • 822 – Making a Chanukas Habayis for a New Home
  • 866 – Saying Yizkor During the First Year
  • 910 – Business Competition Asur or Mutar
  • 954 – Visiting The Sphinx in Egypt−Is It Permitted?
  • 997 – Finding Out The Future: Mutar or Asur?
  • 1041 – Finding Out If “It” is a Boy or Girl? A Good Idea?
  • 1085 – Killing Innocent Civilians During Times of War
  • 1128 – Getting Undeserved Kavod – How Honest Must You Be?
  • 1170 – The Electric Blanket and the Power of Chachomim in Our Days
  • 1214 – The Danger of Cutting Down a Fruit Tree
  • 1258 – Brachos on the Tefillin – One or Two Brachos?
  • 1302 – Cutting Down Your Fruit Tree for Your S’chach
  • 1346 – Minhag Yisroel Torah: The Power of Minhag
  • 1390 – Saying VaYechulu Friday Night in Shul
  • 1434 – Yizkor on Yom Tov – Why?; In the First Year? And Other Yizkor Issues

A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.